Henrik Jul Hansen, an accomplished conductor, pianist, professor and composer who led the Merced Symphony for more than a decade, has died. He was 62.
Hansen died on Oct. 20 at his home in Sacramento, according to a statement released by the family Thursday. No cause of death was released.
Hansen, a native of Copenhagen, Denmark, began studying piano at age 5 and went on to train as a conductor at the Royal Danish Music Conservatory and its counterparts in Sweden and London. He received many honors, including a scholarship to study in the United States with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood Music Festival in Massachusetts, according to the statement, distributed by Pat Smith on behalf of Hansen’s family.
The conductor came to the Merced Symphony in 1999 and played a large role in guiding it through a period of growth and transformation, said Judy Smith, president of the Merced Symphony Association.
“During his tenure, it really went from being a group of community players to a professional company comparable to those in San Francisco or Sacramento,” Smith told the Sun-Star.
“People who go … are just amazed at the caliber of the performance,” she said.
Hansen, a popular figure who was very personable and engaging, “will be sorely missed,” Smith said.
“I have never known anyone who didn’t like him,” she said. “It diminishes us all now that he’s gone.”
Hansen announced his departure from the Merced Symphony in 2014 and was succeeded by Ming Luke, who has continued to develop the orchestra. “Henrik gave us a beautiful foundation to build on,” Smith said.
In the early 1990s, a private grant allowed Hansen to explore the life, music and influence of American composer Ferde Grofe, who orchestrated George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and later composed his “Grand Canyon Suite,” according to the family’s statement. Hansen traveled extensively throughout the United States and assembled materials for a centennial presentation and a book on Grofe.
Teaching about music was a passion, the family said. Between 1999 and 2013, Hansen taught music history and theory at UC Merced and also directed the campus’ orchestral ensemble, the symphonic band and jazz band while coaching individual instrumentalists and singers. He forged a new relationship with the university and the Merced Symphony to explore “realms of music,” he said, culminating in the world premiere of Mexican composer Marcela Rodriquez’s “Teotihuacan” in May 2004, according to the family’s statement.
For the past two decades, Hansen conducted the Sacramento Ballet Orchestra, leading the ballet company’s holiday “Nutcracker” performances. In 1998, he founded the Gold Country Chamber Orchestra (later the Capitol Contemporary Chamber Orchestra) that performed in the greater Sacramento region. He also conducted the Mother Lode Friends of Music Orchestra in Sutter Creek, working with that group from 1998 to his last concert in Sutter Creek in March.
Hansen is survived by his wife, Donna Pozzi of Sacramento; his mother, Vibeke Hansen and brother Carl Johan Hansen, both in Denmark; and sisters-in-law Tanya Pozzi of Maui, Hawaii, and Birgit Jul Hansen of Denmark.
The family asks those wishing to make a memorial contribution to please consider the Henrik Jul-Hansen Memorial Scholarship at UC Davis. This scholarship will help undergraduates studying music continue their education. Contributions may be made online – http://give.ucdavis.edu – or by mail to UC Davis Advancement Services, 1460 Drew Ave., Suite 100, Davis, CA 95618. (Checks should be made payable to the UC Davis Foundation, with the scholarship’s name on the memo line.)
A musical celebration honoring Hansen is planned for spring 2017, Smith said.